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The end of an era

I remember my first glimpse of a cricket match on Television way back in 1988, the day we bought our first, and till date the only, TV and brought it home. While the Yagi Antenna was being hoisted and the picture setup, the delightfully colored images, showing a group of white-clothed men going about their business of playing out a test match draw, kept turning grainy, black-n-white, wavy again and again.

Dull and drab though it was, it started my love affair with cricket that effectively carried me, and millions of my generation, right through teenage, adolescence and early youth. Anything else could go wrong in our lives, but as long as our idols, our Gods, were present on the screen and doing what they did best, we weren't really concerned.

It mattered little that they did not really win a lot of the matches they played. Just the fact that we could see them on screen, celebrating the odd occasions of joy, apparently having fun, and then trotting off the field of play after a hard day at work, was enough to make us happy, and wonderously, even proud of them.

And then, Sachin arrived.

Kapil was good, Azhar was nice and Siddhu was fun but Sachin was God. That signature act of bravery against the then fearsome Pak pace attack was to become the hallmark that defined, and created the legend called Sachin Tendulkar.

A few years later, Anil Kumble arrived to rather universal scorn and ridicule for his unorthodoz action, high speed and lack of discernible spin. I must admit it was rather fun to compare his bowling speed with the pacers, rather journeyman trundlers, that we used to have in our team in those days. And it would prove to be a source of great mirth to realise that some of his quicker ones were faster than the typical Venkatesh Prasad delivery. The wickets, of course, kept coming and very soon, an entire nation was converted.

And the first signs of a pantheon of legends emerged with the debut of Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid. This was an event which would have gone relatively unnoticed but for the fact that Ganguly made a hundred and Dravid came close. Allegations of Ganguly having got Dravid out deliberately seemed to be on the minds of almost half the country.

49 years after 1947, India had been divided again. You were either a Ganguly or Dravid fan. You couldn't have twin nationalities and there were frequent skirmishes.

Azhar faded out and Laxman arrived, relatively unnoticed and the phalanx of warriors was complete.And since then, it has been our steady, and uninterrupted dose of cricketing heroine, that we have remained addicted to.

There have been the occasional highs, Shoaib's mauling in the world cup, Warne's frequent dismantling, England's annihilation - aided by Kambli, Raju and Rajesh Chauhan, the Hero Cup semi-final, and the inevitable lows - the world cup final loss to Australia, the 1996 semi-final loss, the final frontier breaking down.

But the addiction has continued and developed. Tendulkar changed from a hungry aggressor to a ruthless accumulator, Dravid became slightly more adventurous, Ganguly became a statesman and Laxman moved even more in the background and yet increased his efficiency, becoming the proverbial shepherd of the Indian tail-end lambs.

But suddenly, a frightening prospect has emerged. Kumble is gone, Dada is on his way, Dravid looks likely to follow suit, VVS cant be around for much longer and even Tendulkar cannot defy the laws of nature for too long.

Its all nice and good that Sehwag, Zaheer, Ishant, Harbhajan, Yuvraj, Rohit and Gambhir have formed the nucleus of a solid cricket team under Dhoni. But they are not the icons that the ones mentioned earlier were.

Cricket will never be the same after these legends have gone. Switching on the telly to watch a match after they are gone will be well-nigh impossible. Living a life, only slightly less so.

Thank you fellas ! You provided the much-needed succour from the vagaries of life to us millions who saw in you the hopes of a nation come to fruition. You were the emblems of achievement that every trier aspires to, the living proof that grit and determination can take you to heights that mere mortals cannot even think about. You have set a standard that is going to be bloody hard to achieve, let alone surpass.

And then there is matter of the grave injustice done to Ajit Agarkar, simply the best all-rounder ever to have never played to his true potential in the history of the game.

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